Free student summer camp fuses Bible study, science

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Students have a packed schedule at the Bridges "Making a Difference" summer camp. Younger students do arts and crafts for the last hour of the day, while older students play sports outside.

At DeLay Middle School last month, there was a summer program with elements many might find an unlikely combination — a Bible camp fused with a science, math and technology program.

The Bridges “Making a Difference” Summer Program is a free, privately-run two-week program for children from kindergarten to ninth grade that combines religion with academics.

Morgan Elliott, executive director of the Bridges program said her mother, Sharlyn Elliott, founded the Bridges Outreach nonprofit and the summer program was born from there.

“She wanted to create a program that was free for [students] but also incorporated both academics and spirituality,” Elliott said.

Other necessities for the program’s blueprints were positive role models, community service opportunities and tutoring for exit exams, Elliott said.

Now the program is in its 16th year and is serving over 230 students this summer. The camp has grown since its founding in 2001 when there were around 20 students in the program. All the teachers are certified and most of the additional help is from volunteers.

Nakisha Lebron, formerly a student in the program and now a teacher at the camp, said she got involved because her mom was friends with Sharlyn, the founder, and the program is why she is working toward her teaching degree.

“It’s my first year as a teacher here,” she said. “I can’t believe it’s grown so much.”

Each year, the camp has a theme. This year, it’s “Fruit of the Spirit,” which include joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness.

Students start the day with breakfast, followed by worship, guest speakers, then class. The students are broken up into two sections: kindergarten through third grade and fourth grade through ninth grade. Younger students stick with one teacher for their classes while the older students rotate between Bible study, science, math and reading class.

Ami Malvo, a first-grade teacher at Degan Elementary, teaches science at the Bridges camp this year but taught the Bible portion last year. She said there’s no conflict between the two because the program strategically combines the two elements in a harmonious way.

“There’s no contrast because you parallel,” she said. “You parallel your faith.”

Elliott said with the program, her mother hoped to bridge the gap between the school system and the community.

“Our science teachers are very good at incorporating the Word [of God] and science,” she said. “We are blessed to have teachers who can incorporate how science works in illustrating the spiritual aspect of life.”

The majority of the children in the Bridges summer program are LISD students, so Malvo, with help from other science teachers, devised a two-week science curriculum for the program with an emphasis on CER, or claim, evidence, response, the district-wide system LISD uses to get students familiar with science language.

“The most important thing about science is the process,” Malvo said. “When I’m teaching, I’m focusing on processing and thinking skills. Not just ‘Here’s an activity and this is what you do.’ So I give them the materials but don’t tell them how to use them.”

And the teachers at the Bridges camp have to be creative and efficient with their class activities, because the upper-level classes only last 25 to 30 minutes each before they rotate.

Malvo said the last activity her class did was predict how to design a moving object using the science language. She supplied the materials but let the students use teamwork to solve the problem.

“Teaching is no longer telling the student what to do,” she said. “It’s having the student use their analysis and their processing skills to get to the product.”

Even in the 30-minute time frame, teachers give a lesson and tie it to the camp theme that year, Malvo said.

“You need patience to work with each other, you have to have joy in your heart and you have to exhibit self-control in order to work with everyone,” she said of the “Fruit of the Spirit” theme. “If you have joy in your heart, then you’re going to be patient to deliver your ideas. You’re going to be patient and let the person speaking finish before you blurt and interrupt… those are all skills you need in teamwork.”

Although it’s focused on religion and science, it’s not black and white, Malvo said.

“It’s really an opportunity for me to tie in lots of different things they already have experience with but they put on a shelf and they only take down during math or they put it on a shelf and only take it down during history,” she said. “It’s collaborative.”

After classes, the younger students get to do arts and crafts while older students can choose from sports like volleyball, soccer or basketball where coaches teach them drills and give them pointers to improve their skills.

Students personalize toolboxes in an arts and crafts activity on June 22.

Lebron said her students enjoy the camp, even though they are learning at school during the summer.

“They keep doing positive things every day and trying to get kids involved,” she said of the program. “The kids actually like it.”

Malvo sees the program as valuable for the children who attend.

“There is so much to be gained just in the students having a different outlook on what they see in the world and how that can include Christ in their life and that’s OK, and it’s OK to accept others,” she said. “Just being able to work together, there’s hope. And that’s what we tell them, because you’re here there’s hope.

For more information about Bridges Outreach, visit their website: www.bridgesoutreachdci.org